Drum Set Basics

Drum Set Basics

For the beginning drum set player there are a few things to focus on first. Most drum sets are set up right handed which is often considered to be “standard.” Briefly, the “standard” set up consists of the hi hat to your left and the floor tom and the ride cymbal to your right. The advantage of keeping a “standard” set up for a beginner, even if you are left handed, is to be able to play someone else’s kit. Situations in which this may arise could be a school jazz band where everyone else plays “standard” and there is not enough time to change the set up of the drum set between songs or for each drummer. This could also occur in a jam session or open mic where there are multiple people using the same drum set and the time constraints don’t allow for much adjustment. With that in mind, however, there are some things that should always be adjusted in order to be comfortable and have the most ease in playing the instrument. Always adjust the throne height, snare height, and tom heights as well as the distance of the cymbal stands and throne from the kit. This will prevent back pain and will allow you to have your optimum performance.

There is a general way in which drum set music is notated. First, the staff is the set of lines and spaces on which music is written and each space and line corresponds to a specific instrument in the drum set. In general, the staff is arranged in pitch order, highest pitched instrument at the top to lowest pitched instrument at the bottom. At the top would be cymbals and at the bottom is generally the bass drum. There is an exception to this rule. When the hi hat is being operated by the foot, then it is written at the bottom of the staff near the bass drum. Following is an example of what a drum set “groove” or pattern looks like. Often times the cymbals are designated by an “x” instead of a standard note head. Here we have hi hat at the top, below it is the snare and at the bottom is the bass drum.

For a right handed player, the right hand will play the hi hat and the left hand will play the snare drum. Your hands will be crossed with the right hand above the left hand. This allows you to switch over and play the ride cymbal with the right hand as well.

Following is another basic drum set groove to try out.

Remember to start slow and work on accuracy and keeping the time steady. Once you have achieved some muscle memory then start speeding the grooves up in small increments.

– Meg Thomas

Meg Thomas Bio
Meg Thomas Headshot B-W 3.5MBDrummer and percussionist Meg Thomas has performed in musical realms that range from rock to calypso, avant-garde to spoken word, Latin-jazz to punk, and dance ensembles to percussion ensembles. Her drum and percussion set-ups range from the traditional ideas to unique set-ups that incorporate a vast range of percussion instruments. She received her degree in Music from Millikin University and she founded and runs the Chicago Women’s Drumming Group. Meg is a Vic Firth Private Drum and Percussion Teacher and teaches lessons out of her studio in Chicago. She plays recording sessions, performs with an array of bands and ensembles, and has toured the U.S. and Europe. Meg won a Drummie in Drum! Magazine’s 2010 Drummie Awards as runner-up “Rising Star Percussionist,” was named “Musician of the Month” for January 2013 by the Chicago Music Guide, and is endorsed by Sabian Cymbals, Vic Firth Sticks and Mallets, Evans Drumheads, LP Percussion, PureSound Percussion, and Humes & Berg Cases.

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